Book Reviews and Highlights

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Haruki Murakami

  • Biography & Autobiography
  • Personal Memoirs
  • Running & Jogging
  • Sports
  • "Okay everybody-let's run every day to stay healthy!"
  • Foreword | Page: 1
  • No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative , even meditative act.
  • Foreword | Page: 1
  • Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you're running and you start to think, Man this hurts, I can't take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself . This pretty much sums up the most important aspect of marathon running.
  • Foreword | Page: 1
  • To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm. This is the important thing for long-term projects. Once you set the pace , the rest will follow. The problem is getting the flywheel to spin at a set speed- and to get to that point takes as much concentration and effort as you can manage.
  • Chapter One | Page: 5
  • But for me, they're all meaningful and valuable. As each of these memories flits across my mind, I'm sure I unconsciously smile, or give a slight frown. Commonplace they might be, but the accumulation of these memories has led to one result: me.
  • Chapter One | Page: 6
  • Sometimes when I think of life, I feel like a piece of driftwood washed up on shore.
  • Chapter One | Page: 6
  • Long-distance running suits my personality, though, and of all the habits I've acquired over my lifetime I'd have to say this one has been the most helpful, the most meaningful. Running without a break for more than two decades has also made me stronger, both physically and emotionally.
  • Chapter One | Page: 8
  • I'm much more interested in whether I reach the goals that I set for myself, so in this sense long-distance running is the perfect fit for a mindset like mine.
  • Chapter One | Page: 9
  • In the novelist's profession, as far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as winning or losing. Maybe numbers of copies sold, awards won, and critics' praise serve as outward standards for accomplishment in literature, but none of them really matter. What's crucial is whether your writing attains the standards you've set for yourself.
  • Chapter One | Page: 10
  • For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that's why I've put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level.
  • Chapter One | Page: 10
  • As I mentioned before, competing against other people, whether in daily life or in my field of work, is just not the sort of lifestyle I'm after.
  • Chapter One | Page: 18
  • If you think about it, it's precisely because people are different from others that they're able to create their own independent selves.
  • Chapter One | Page: 19
  • So the fact that I'm me and no one else is one of my greatest assets.
  • Chapter One | Page: 19
  • Just as a river flows to the sea, growing older and slowing down are just part of the natural scenery, and I've got to accept it.
  • Chapter One | Page: 22
  • To tell the truth, I didn't think I had much aptitude for business either. I just figured, though, that since failure was not an option, I'd have to give it everything I had.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 25
  • My only strength has always been the fact that I work hard and can take a lot physically. I'm more a workhorse than a racehorse.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 25
  • Turning thirty was just around the corner. I was reaching the age when I couldn't be considered young anymore.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 26
  • No concrete image of what I wanted to write about , just the conviction that if I wrote it now I could come up with something that I'd find convincing.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 28
  • With these first two novels I was only able to write in spurts, snatching bits of time here and there-a half hour here, an hour there-and because I was always tired and felt like I was competing against the clock as I wrote, I was never able to concentrate. With this kind of scattered approach I was able to write some interesting, fresh things, but the result was far from a complex or profound novel.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 30
  • And after giving it a lot of thought, I decided to close the business for a while and concentrate solely on writing. At this point my income from the jazz club was more than my income as a novelist, a reality I had to resign myself to.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 31
  • I'm the kind of person who has to totally commit to whatever I do. I just couldn't do something clever like writing a novel while someone else ran the business. I had to give it everything I had. If I failed, I could accept that.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 31
  • Whenever I was able to do something I liked to do, though, when I wanted to do it, and the way I wanted to do it, I'd give it everything I had.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 34
  • It was a major directional change- from the kind of open life we'd led for seven years, to a more closed life .
  • Chapter Two | Page: 36
  • I got up before five a.m. and went to bed before ten p.m. People are at their best at different times of day, but I'm definitely a morning person. That's when I can focus and finish up important work I have to do. Afterward I work out or do other errands that don't take much concentration. At the end of the day I relax and don't do any more work . I read, listen to music, take it easy, and try to go to bed early. This is the pattern I've mostly followed up till today.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 36
  • I'm struck by how, except when you're young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don't get that sort of system set by a certain age, you'll lack focus and your life will be out of balance. I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing, not associating with all the people around me. I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person, but with an unspecified number of readers. As long as I got my day-to-day life set so that each work was an improvement over the last, then many of my readers would welcome whatever life I chose for myself.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 37
  • In other words, you can't please everybody.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 38
  • After years of running, my musculature has changed completely. But even then I could feel physical changes happening every day, which made me really happy. I felt like even though I was past thirty, there were still some possibilities left for me and my body. The more I ran , the more my physical potential was revealed.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 41
  • In other words, if I don't want to gain weight I have to work out hard every day, watch what I eat, and cut down on indulgences.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 42
  • We should consider ourselves lucky that the red light is so clearly visible.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 42
  • Writers who are blessed with inborn talent can freely write novels no matter what they do-or don't do. Like water from a natural spring, the sentences just well up, and with little or no effort these writers can complete a work. Occasionally you'll find someone like that, but, unfortunately, that category wouldn't include me.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 43
  • To write a novel I have to drive myself hard physically and use a lot of time and effort . Every time I begin a new novel, I have to dredge out another new , deep hole. But as I've sustained this kind of life over many years, I've become quite efficient, both technically and physically, at opening a hole in the hard rock and locating a new water vein.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 43
  • Human beings naturally continue doing things they like, and they don't continue what they don't like.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 44
  • The most important thing we ever learn at school is the fact that the most important things can't be learned at school.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 45
  • You're able to make a living as a novelist, working at home, setting your own hours, so you don't have to commute on a packed train or sit through boring meetings. Don't you realize how fortunate you are? (Believe me, I do.) Compared to that, running an hour around the neighborhood is nothing, right?
  • Chapter Two | Page: 46
  • Thirty-three- that's how old I was then. Still young enough, though no longer a young man. The age that Jesus Christ died . The age that Scott Fitzgerald started to go downhill. That age may be a kind of crossroads in life. That was the age when I began my life as a runner, and it was my belated, but real, starting point as a novelist.
  • Chapter Two | Page: 47
  • "Muscles are hard to get and easy to lose. Fat is easy to get and hard to lose."
  • Chapter Three | Page: 50
  • There are three reasons I failed. Not enough training. Not enough training. And not enough training. That's it in a word. Not enough overall exercise, plus not getting my weight down. Without knowing it, I'd developed a sort of arrogant attitude, convinced that just a fair-to-middling amount of training was enough for me to do a good job. It's pretty thin, the wall separating healthy confidence and unhealthy pride.
  • Chapter Three | Page: 54
  • I think certain types of processes don't allow for any variation. If you have to be part of that process, all you can do is transform-or perhaps distort-yourself through that persistent repetition, and make that process a part of your own personality.
  • Chapter Three | Page: 68
  • Through repetition you input into your muscles the message that this is how much work they have to perform. Our muscles are very conscientious. As long as we observe the correct procedure, they won't complain.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 71
  • Running every day is a kind of lifeline for me, so I'm not going to lay off or quit just because I'm busy. If I used being busy as an excuse not to run, I'd never run again . I have only a few reasons to keep on running, and a truckload of them to quit.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 73
  • In every interview I'm asked what's the most important quality a novelist has to have. It's pretty obvious: talent.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 76
  • The problem with talent, though, is that in most cases the person involved can't control its amount or quality.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 77
  • If I'm asked what the next most important quality is for a novelist, that's easy too: focus-the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever's critical at the moment.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 77
  • That's what I mean when I say that without focus you can't accomplish anything. After focus, the next most important thing for a novelist is, hands down, endurance.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 78
  • What's needed for a writer of fiction- at least one who hopes to write a novel- is the energy to focus every day for half a year, or a year, two years.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 78
  • If concentration is the process of just holding your breath, endurance is the art of slowly, quietly breathing at the same time you're storing air in your lungs.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 78
  • Fortunately, these two disciplines-focus and endurance-are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training. You'll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 78
  • You have to continually transmit the object of your focus to your entire body, and make sure it thoroughly assimilates the information necessary for you to write every single day and concentrate on the work at hand.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 78
  • In private correspondence the great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed that even if he didn't write anything, he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 79
  • The whole process-sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track-requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 79
  • Everybody uses their mind when they think. But a writer puts on an outfit called narrative and thinks with his entire being; and for the novelist that process requires putting into play all your physical reserve, often to the point of overexertion.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 80
  • Since I'm a writer with limits- an imperfect person living an imperfect, limited life-the fact that I can still feel this way is a real accomplishment.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 82
  • Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life- and for me, for writing as well.
  • Chapter Four | Page: 83
  • Have I ever had such luminous days in my own life? Perhaps a few. But even if I had a long ponytail back then, I doubt if it would have swung so proudly as these girls' ponytails do.
  • Chapter Five | Page: 94
  • There's a widely held view that by living an unhealthy lifestyle a writer can remove himself from the profane world and attain a kind of purity that has artistic value. This idea has taken shape over a long period of time. Movies and TV dramas perpetuate this stereotypical-or, to put a positive spin on it, legendary- figure of the artist.
  • Chapter Five | Page: 96
  • So from the start, artistic activity contains elements that are unhealthy and antisocial.
  • Chapter Five | Page: 96
  • But, frankly, if I want to write a large-scale work, increasing my strength and stamina is a must, and I believe this is something worth doing , or at least that doing it is much better than not.
  • Chapter Five | Page: 97
  • For me, writing a novel is like climbing a steep mountain, struggling up the face of the cliff, reaching the summit after a long and arduous ordeal. You overcome your limitations, or you don't, one or the other. I always keep that inner image with me as I write.
  • Chapter Five | Page: 99
  • I'm not a human. I'm a piece of machinery. I don't need to feel a thing. Just forge on ahead. That's what I told myself. That's about all I thought about, and that's what got me through.
  • Chapter Six | Page: 110
  • My muscles silently accepted this exhaustion now as a historical inevitability, an ineluctable outcome of the revolution. I had been transformed into a being on autopilot, whose sole purpose was to rhythmically swing his arms back and forth, move his legs forward one step at a time.
  • Chapter Six | Page: 112
  • Ever since time began (when was that, I wonder?), it's been moving ever forward without a moment's rest.
  • Chapter Six | Page: 121
  • All I have to go on are experience and instinct. Experience has taught me this: You've done everything you needed to do, and there's no sense in rehashing it. All you can do now is wait for the race. And what instinct has taught me is one thing only: Use your imagination. So I close my eyes and see it all.
  • Chapter Seven | Page: 133
  • You go up slopes, on level ground, and down slopes. Sometimes the wind's with you, sometimes against you. You switch gears as needed, change your position, check your speed, pedal harder, let up a bit, check your speed, drink water, change gears, change your position…Sometimes it strikes me as an intricate form of torture.
  • Chapter Eight | Page: 141
  • Even if my time gets worse, I'll keep on putting in as much effort- perhaps even more effort-toward my goal of finishing a marathon. I don't care what others say -that's just my nature, the way I am. Like scorpions sting, cicadas cling to trees, salmon swim upstream to where they were born , and wild ducks mate for life.
  • Chapter Eight | Page: 149
  • One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run- simply because I wanted to. I've always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I'm wrong, but I won't change.
  • Chapter Eight | Page: 150
  • What I should be looking at is inside of me. Like staring down into a deep well. Can I see kindness there? No, all I see is my own nature. My own individual, stubborn, uncooperative, often self-centered nature that still doubts itself- that, when troubles occur, tries to find something funny, or something nearly funny, about the situation.
  • Chapter Eight | Page: 150
  • No matter how long you stand there examining yourself naked before a mirror, you'll never see reflected what's inside.
  • Chapter Nine | Page: 163
  • Through experience you learn how to compensate for your physical shortcomings . To put it another way, learning from experience is what makes the triathlon so much fun.
  • Chapter Nine | Page: 171
  • But even activities that appear fruitless don't necessarily end up so. That's the feeling I have, as someone who's felt this, who's experienced it.
  • Chapter Nine | Page: 172
  • Long-distance running (more or less, for better or worse) has molded me into the person I am today, and I'm hoping it will remain a part of my life for as long as possible.
  • Chapter Nine | Page: 172
  • One by one, I'll face the tasks before me and complete them as best I can. Focusing on each stride forward, but at the same time taking a long-range view, scanning the scenery as far ahead as I can. I am, after all, a long-distance runner.
  • Chapter Nine | Page: 173
  • For a runner like me, what's really important is reaching the goal I set myself, under my own power. I give it everything I have, endure what needs enduring, and am able, in my own way, to be satisfied .
  • Chapter Nine | Page: 173